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In church calendar, aging is shown as only skin deep

Fund-raising project puts focus on men this time

By Jose Martinez
Globe Correspondent / November 17, 2011

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Janet Drake’s bucolic backyard on the banks of the Sudbury River in Framingham provided the perfect backdrop for a page of her church’s fund-raising calendar.

There the 76-year-old woman posed, as 81-year-old Walter Barker tripped the shutter of his camera. Perfect, she said, right down to both seniors’ lack of clothing.

“I feel that clothing would not have added to the beauty of the scene,’’ she recalled of that August day. “It’s the simplicity that makes it so wonderful.’’

Two dozen older members of First Parish in Framingham have become internationally known as models in a pair of calendars showing off their ages as much as their skin.

The men and women of the Unitarian Universalist congregation decided to pose au naturel - a few props strategically placed - not only to raise money for their church, but also to raise awareness of the value in being older, vibrant, and fearless.

“These are people who were involved for many years in our community, and they got involved with the project to help out,’’ said Eva Benda, who coordinates marketing. “And they bared all. And it’s wonderful.’’

The “Celebration 2012 Calendar’’ is an all-male effort except for Drake, a Framingham librarian who was Miss June in the original all-ladies calendar in 2006. Both calendars display their subjects pursuing favorite hobbies.

“It was my idea to tie the two calendars together by including Janet,’’ said Barker, a retired accountant and photography buff who is depicted snapping Drake’s picture.

“I did this just for the fun of it and to support the church.’’

The $15 calendar has drawn sales from as far afield as Ireland, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, and even provided fodder for a “Tonight Show’’ parody that dropped the heads of Nancy Pelosi, Newt Gingrich, and other political figures onto the models’ bodies. Benda said about half of the print run of 2,000 already has been sold.

“The message is really what is compelling about the calendar,’’ Benda said. “It celebrates aging well, lives well lived, being vibrant and engaged.’’

The calendar features the men, ages 64 to 87, in tasteful and whimsical poses that highlight their interests, such as music, tennis, motorcycles, gardening, fishing, and golf. The models for both calendars are highly respected members of the community, including teachers, a retired minister, and a former selectwoman, Esther Hopkins.

Church member and professional photographer Lynne Damianos shot both calendars - originally inspired by the 2003 film “Calendar Girls’’ - and said she was surprised by the widespread interest in round two, which has taken on quite a buzz online, including a mention on the Huffington Post website. The calendar, like the church, has its own Facebook page.

“I have to admit, I thought it would be old hat by now, but people are really embracing it,’’ Damianos said. “The whole point here is to celebrate the beauty of aging. You see all these high-tech retouched photographs everywhere, but that is not reality. We wanted to show the vitality of people who have aged.’’

The obvious question for many is: Were the models completely nude during the photo sessions? Damianos would prefer not to say. “My lips are sealed!’’

The photographs from both calendars also are on display at the Amazing Things Arts Center in downtown Framingham. “Barely Aging - A Celebration’’ had been scheduled for a monthlong run ending Nov. 12, but has been extended indefinitely, Benda said. The calendar men also are scheduled to appear at the Barnes & Noble store in Framingham on Dec. 3 to sign autographs.

Drake, whose love of drumming features prominently in her June 2006 portrait, enjoyed the local notoriety that came with her decision to pose despite being a librarian with three grown children and four grandchildren.

“I have been recognized by patrons that come into the library. Someone would show them the picture and they would say, ‘Oh, I know her. She checks my books out!’ ’’ Drake said. “There is a nice man who comes in. For a long time he would call me ‘Miss June.’ ’’

Barker admits his participation in the project has drawn some ribbing from friends, but said he enjoys showing people the calendar and seeing their reactions.

At the nursing home where he visits his wife of 59 years every day, he showed the calendar to the owners and a counselor, who not only bought copies but invited him to join them for Thanksgiving dinner.

“For the calendar, they asked us to include a favorite quote at the bottom of our resumes. Mine was, ‘Let it be a dance,’ ’’ Barker said, quoting a song by the late Rick Masten, a Unitarian minister whose struggle with cancer has become a source of strength for many, including Barker.

“You reach a point where you are simply not shy,’’ Damianos said. “You say to the world, ‘This is who I am!’ They are all quite remarkable characters,’’ she said.

“The whole experience has been amazing. This calendar has brought smiles to people’s lives.”